CfP: Magical Metropolis – the Shanghai Surreal (The 16th Annual Conference, Centre for Chinese Visual Arts)

Date of event:   31/03/2023 − 31/03/2023

Deadline: 31 March 2023
Event duration: 23-24 November 2023
Organized by: Centre for Chinese Visual Arts, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK

For the first time, the CCVA annual conference instrumentalises a specific cityscape to provoke discussions, debates, and new understandings in a transdisciplinary context. This year, we focus on Shanghai, popularly known as modu (magical metropolis) today.

Following the First Opium War (1839-42), Shanghai involuntarily opened to European trade whilst certain areas were forcibly rented by imperial powers under an unjust semi-colonial system of concessions. The city rapidly developed into one of Asia’s thriving treaty ports, a cosmopolitan metropolis which became the Chinese art world’s nucleus amidst the Republican era (1911-1949). During the 1930s, Surrealism entered Shanghai through returnee study-abroad students who encountered the movement in France and Japan. Disseminated through a nexus of copious periodicals, manhua, exhibitions, artist’s studios, and art collectives such as the Storm Society (juelanshe), Surrealism was concentrated in the city’s former French and international concessions, purveying a repertoire of distorted nudes, oneiric cityscapes, and political dystopia. The Shanghai Surreal can also be characterised across performing arts, architecture, cinema, animation, urban transformations, and everyday life. Indeed, Parisian Surrealists praised Hollywood films such as The Shanghai Gesture (1941) which propagated a distinctly orientalist urban mythology, counter to their Chinese peers.

From the Republican era to the present day, The Shanghai Surreal reflects the city’s moniker modu, a simultaneously magical yet intoxicating city where East vs West, tradition vs modernity and, more recently socialism and capitalism coexist. We welcome art-historical studies of Shanghainese Surrealism alongside broader, multidisciplinary conceptions of Shanghai as a ‘Surreal City’. Possible perspectives include but are not limited to:

  • Surrealist references or strategies amongst Shanghai related artists/groupings/exhibitions.
  • Surreality in Shanghainese periodicals, manhua and visual culture.
  • Shanghai’s urban transformations and architecture.
  • The Shanghai Surreal in film, animation, and theatrical forms.
  • Surreal visualities and testimonies of Shanghai covid lockdowns.

Please submit one document containing 1) an abstract of up to 300 words; 2) a 100-word biography, contact information and any institutional affiliation by 31 March 2023 to Dr. Lauren Walden ( and

Applications from all career stages and postgraduate students are most welcome. Following the conference, selected papers will be invited for publication in the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art indexed by Scopus.

For more information, please visit the website here.